In an effort to understand why some malignant mesothelioma victims succumb so much faster than others, researchers from Curtin University in Australia have discovered that certain immune cells known as macrophages actually work against the body’s ability to fight off cancerous tumors in elderly laboratory animals. The group believes that the same dynamic is likely true in humans, and hope that their discovery will lead to improved treatments for people who are facing a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Publishing the results of their mesothelioma study in the scientific journal Frontiers in Genetics, first author PhD student Lilinh Duong of the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences and the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute said, “Many cancers emerge in the elderly, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. Our immune system plays a crucial role in eliminating these cancerous cells; yet immune function usually deteriorates as we age. We examined the role of these immune cells in three-month-old mice, equivalent to an 18-year-old human, compared to 24-month-old mice, equivalent to a 60 or 70-year-old human, by using an immunotherapy treatment to induce an anti-tumour response against cancerous cells. We found that macrophages sabotaged anti-tumour responses in the elderly, meaning that mesothelioma tumours in elderly mice were more aggressive and less responsive to immunotherapy.”
The researchers observed that the elderly mice with mesothelioma also suffered symptoms beyond those caused by the disease’s tumor, including weight loss, muscle wasting, and loss of appetite. Each of these can contribute to a patient succumbing to their cancer more quickly. According to co-author Dr. Connie Jackaman, the next step is to determine whether the macrophage immune cells that are working against the elderly mice can be removed. “Our current research is examining why our immune cells change as we age and whether we can target these cells to restore immune function in the elderly. Understanding these changes could help to inform treatments in elderly cancer patients specifically.”
This discovery is extremely exciting, as it may lead to a real sea change in the impact of treatment on elderly mesothelioma patients. For more information on recent discoveries and innovations, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608.